Posted by: piratecoasting | 23 November 2009

The raccoons have us marked.

Our Pirate Coast hideaway is a second story condo, accessed via a private covered stairway.  This is nice, because it means our entry is hidden away from prying eyes.  None of our neighbors have complained about the inflatable monkey who lives on our porch, because no one sees it unless they actually are coming to visit us (or, more likely, deliver something I’ve ordered online.)  This also means that if I stick a bag of trash outside the front door, intending to walk it down to the dumpster later, no one is the wiser.

No human, that is.  The raccoons know all about it.  Twice now I have forgotten a bag of trash outside overnight, and both times the bag has been raided by masked bandits.  Ugh.  Coffee grounds and orange peels all over my entry mat, yummier trash dragged farther away from our home.  Since the second looting of our trash, we’ve been very careful not to let a bag of trash linger on the porch past sundown.  The raccoons have their beady little eyes on us, and they want our chicken bones.   But it’s been months since we’ve given them the opportunity to feast at our expense.

Last night, after dinner, I got a call from Baba.  “Did you find the salmon I left for you in front of your door?”  (She makes wonderful fresh-cured salmon, and she always saves some for me because she knows I love it so.)  I opened the door, phone in hand, and found the small package.  “I’ve got it now,” I said, “and it’s still cold.”  She said that she’d dropped it off about an hour ago.  “I’m glad you called me, because I wouldn’t have looked for it otherwise, and the raccoons surely would have stolen it.”  She laughed.  She used to live here, she knows about the raccoons.

I had successfully retrieved the salmon, but the scent must have lingered.  This morning, as my son and I walked down to the car, we found a raccoon’s calling card: a surprisingly large pile of shiny black poop, glistening on the landing halfway up our stairs.  The raccoon, lacking the opposable thumbs necessary for text-messaging or Twittering, had no choice but to express his displeasure in fecal form.

Too bad, so sad, raccoon.  My salmon-decked bagel was delicious.

Posted by: piratecoasting | 18 November 2009


I was extremely surprised this morning when I sent an email to one of my colleagues in the DC office and she replied saying, hey, I saw something on the news about an incident at the TJ Maxx in Venice.  What?  Huh?  What could possibly have happened in VENICE that would be major enough to make the news in DC?  DC has REAL news.   Things happen there, important things.  DC has international politics and urban blight.  DC has Barack Obama.  Venice has nice weather and costume contests at the Senior Friendship Center.

Turns out, last night two armed gunmen wearing masks entered our local TJ Maxx, intending to rob the store.  Instead, they managed to take nearly a dozen employees and customers hostage.  No one was killed or seriously injured, thank God, but it took four hours to get all of the hostages out of the store.  And despite the presence of SWAT teams and police galore, the gunmen managed to escape.

This is highly unusual, to say the least.   This is not a high-crime area.   What crime there is tends to be property crimes, not violent ones.  Teenagers stealing things out of unlocked cars, that sort of thing.  Last weekend, just for laughs, I read the police blotter in the Venice newspaper, which consisted of six items.  Four were DUI-related, and one was a charge of falsely reporting a crime.

This is quite different from the crime we experienced living in DC.   In DC, we heard gunshots regularly, at least once a week.  (My husband got quite good at determining the caliber of the weapon based on the pitch of the noise.)  Even in our nice neighborhood, I was constantly reading reports about people being viciously mugged or just plain beaten as they walked to and from the Metro.  Our house was broken into (by someone who wasn’t afraid of rottweilers, I assume) and our housemate’s car was badly vandalized.  Bad children from the nearby elementary school would stand in the alley and throw rocks at our windows, or, even worse, at our dog.  We had two lawnmowers and a garden hose stolen, and my mother, who lived a few blocks away from us, had all of the Christmas decorations stolen from her yard.   All of my friends had at least an item or two stolen from their porches: strollers, bikes, toys, potted plants, UPS packages.  Most shockingly, one night a pedestrian at the corner of our block shot a driver in the head as the driver blew past the stop sign.  He died immediately, but the car rolled for an additional two blocks before crashing into someone’s yard.  And oh, I almost forgot!  There was one FANTASTIC afternoon when my son’s school was put on lockdown because a fugitive shot a cop in the face right in front of the school.  There is no joy like getting a phone call telling you that your kindergartner is locked into his school under police guard, and you aren’t allowed within a 2 block radius of the school, and you don’t have any idea when, or even if, you’ll be able to retrieve your child.

I was used to it – I was a city girl, you know.  I always looked twice before getting out of my car, to make sure no one was lurking in the shadows.  I walked quickly and confidently, with my purse tucked snugly under my arm, and I never blocked my senses by wearing earphones.  I tried not to walk alone at night, and always insisted that someone drive over to pick me up at the station if I was coming home on the Metro after dark.  I had a big scary-looking dog with a big scary-sounding bark.  I never EVER left the house or car unlocked.  I was used to it, I accepted it, and I wasn’t going to let it get me down… and yet oh, the relief when I moved here.  No more gunshots in the dark.  I can take a walk at twilight and encounter only smiling retired couples walking together, enjoying the cool of the evening.  The post office, convenience stores and carry-outs just have counters, with no bullet-proof glass walls.  Admittedly, I need to keep a sharp eye out for wildlife — some of those turtles are MEAN — and I haven’t stopped locking the car, but the absence of violent crime here allowed me to let out a breath I’d been holding for years.

So this TJ Maxx incident surprises me.  It doesn’t shock me, because I know that the economy in this area was struggling even before the recession hit, and a lot of people are getting desperate.  I suspect that the gunmen are not professional armed robbers; if they were, they would have gotten the money and gotten out, I think, instead of bungling it into a drawn-out hostage situation.  It sounds like they didn’t even get the money, even though they did succeed in getting away.  It doesn’t scare me particularly (and nothing is going to keep me away from that TJ Maxx, not when I’ve found $10 designer jeans there) but I want it to remain a fluke.  I might laugh at the lack of real news in the newspaper, but honestly, it’s really nice to have the front page articles be about the menace of raccoons who scavenge from trash cans at the picnic pavilion at the beach.

Posted by: piratecoasting | 14 November 2009

How did I get here?

I never imagined I would wind up living in Florida.  In retrospect, man, was I ever stupid.

The tale begins in 2005.  I was living in Washington, DC with my husband, Jon, our then-toddler son, the Dude, and an aging lady rottweiler .  We lived inside the city, in a 1930’s house that defined the phrase “full of character,” with the majority of our extended family scattered across the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.   We spent a lot of time with our family, particularly with my mother and with Jon’s father and his elegant wife, who shall henceforth be referred to by their chosen grandparental names of Pap and Baba.

Pap decided that he and Baba should buy a little place in Florida to spend their winters, so they took an extended trip, scouting the length of the Pirate Coast from Tampa to Naples.  They fell in love with the little city of Venice, for the plentiful beaches and the relaxed lifestyle and the charming historic city center, and bought a newly built condo in a small development.  They invited us to come visit.  We didn’t.  I didn’t want to go to Florida.  Florida, I thought, was Mickey Mouse and golf carts and early bird specials.  Florida wasn’t the place for a city girl like me.  We waited for them to come back to Maryland for the summer… we could see them then.

After spending a while living in their new condo, Pap and Baba realized that they were reluctant to return to the DC area.  Life in Venice was just too pleasant!  They came back to their Maryland house for one last summer, putting the house on the market, where it promptly sold at the height of the real estate bubble.  He decided to invest part of his profits into a larger house in Venice, and put the condo on the market.  Alas, the bubble had already popped in Florida, and the condo sat on the market, untouched.  Pap and Baba used it as a guest house, and when Jon’s sister and her husband succumbed to the lure to move to Florida, they lived in it for several months before they bought a house about a mile away.

In early spring 2007, we finally decided to visit.  We stayed with Baba and Pap in their new house, and spent our days swimming in the pool and visiting the beaches and exploring the town.  A major highlight of the visit was Saturday evening on Nokomis Beach.  Every Wednesday and Saturday evening, drummers gather to form a sunset drum circle on the beach.  Jon loves to drum — he took an African drumming class in college, and is still playing the djembe I bought him in 1991 — and I’m just plain a show-off, and I love to dance.  I loved it.

That fall, I found myself back on the Pirate Coast.  I’d entered a T-Tapp fitness contest, and I was named one of the winners.  My prize was to attend the T-Tapp retreat at the Safety Harbor Resort and Spa for free — all I had to do was pay for my airfare from DC to Tampa.   At the end of the retreat, Teresa Tapp asked me if I would want to do a magazine shoot, possibly even for the cover of a fitness magazine.  Um, yeah!  I didn’t really think it would happen, but a month later Teresa called me and asked if I could fly down in November for the shoot.

On the day of the shoot, Teresa sent me out to lunch with one of her staffers, Jen.  Jen drove me to one of her favorite restaurants, Frenchy’s on Clearwater Beach.  As we drove across the bridge to Clearwater, the sun beaming down out of the clear blue sky and sparkling on the water below us, I sighed, thinking of the chill gray weather I’d left behind in DC.  “I wish I lived here,” I said, which took me by surprise.  I hadn’t planned to say that, it just fell out of my mouth… much like my years-earlier pronouncement to my best friend, when I’d pointed out a handsome acquaintance at college and unthinkingly said “that one.”   I married him, which turned out to be a fabulous decision.  Turns out, my surprise wish to live on the Pirate Coast was a good decision too.

A few weeks later, back in DC, Pap came to visit for Thanksgiving with an unusual surprise.  Move to Florida, he urged us.  It’ll be a great place for the boy to grow up.  Move down, he said, and live in the condo, which he offered to us at a price we couldn’t refuse.  Everything was coming together to make it possible for us to leave DC: we were in the process of selling our business, our heat-hating rottweiler had just passed away, and, well, I’d made that wish.

So it came to pass that in 2008, we packed up our lives and moved to our little hideaway on the Pirate Coast.  And I have never been happier.

Posted by: piratecoasting | 12 November 2009

Another View of the Pirate Coast

I could tell you about the Pirate Coast in greater detail… or I could just let the Washington Post’s Travel section tell you about it.

Posted by: piratecoasting | 9 November 2009

Where am I?

The Pirate Coast.  Have you heard of such a place?  Perhaps not, as the name has gone out of fashion, replaced by the term “Sun Coast.”  I suppose that business owners thought that a “Sun Coast” would sound like a more pleasant place to vacation than the Pirate Coast, but I disagree.  I think Pirate Coast sounds far more fun.

So where is this place, you ask?  The Pirate Coast is the stretch of Florida’s Gulf Coast that runs from Tampa in the north all the way down to Naples.  It includes the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Bradenton, Sarasota, Venice, Port Charlotte, Fort Myers and Naples.  It’s beautiful, it’s where I live, and it’s my hunting ground for treasures.